Since I have a week off from both school and major amounts of work, I figured that I would go through the 2 Conferences of the NHL and look at the playoff probabilities of each team. The teams have played about 3/4 of their schedules and the races are tight to get into the playoffs. I am glomming off the updates that R.J. is giving on his beloved Maple Leafs. So without any further ado, lets dive into the Eastern Conference.
Teams That Will Not Make The Playoffs:
Ottawa Senators: This team was at one time a juggernaut in the East. After dismantling those perennial playoff chokers, the Sens have fallen on hard times. The 1st Line of Greening, Speeza, and Butler doesn't scare anybody. The free agent signing of Sergei Gonchar hasn't paid dividends, but the acquisition of Craig Anderson might pay off for them in the future. When you have rookies on the 1st Line and in your top defensive pairing, you know that you will have growing pains. That is what Ottawa is experiencing right now.
New York Islanders: Perennial losers. The owner is peculiar and the GM doesn't get what the NHL is trying to transform itself into. Perfect case in point is the defense that Garth Snow tried to muster for Trevor Gillies. After a 9 game-suspension for his hits and conduct against the Pittsburgh Penguins, his 1st game back he goes right to the head for a cheap shot on Cal Clutterbuck of the Wild. Gets a 10-game suspension. And Snow is arguing that he was trying to get back for a check that Clutterbuck put on a different Islander. One that Clutterbuck was sent to the penalty box for. Even Mike Milbury says that the league needs to get rid of this guy. Anyways, the Islanders might have had a chance this year, but 7 players are on IR including DiPietro and Weight. They have a good young 1st line. But the goaltending of Montoya and Lawson aren't going to steal too many games for you.
Florida Panthers: They are under the 1st year of rebuilding under new management. But there are signs of life for this franchise that hasn't been in the playoff for a decade plus. Tomas Vokoun is one hell of a goalie and if they can get him under contract for long-term, the goalie situation is set. Stephen Weiss is a 1st line Center that they can build around. Getting Sergei Samsonov from Carolina should help with the speed that he possesses. And after trading most of their veterans before the trade deadline, the Panthers came away with lots of draft picks for the upcoming draft. If they can draft kids that can contribute in a couple of years, the lean times in Miami could be coming to an end.
Teams That Need To Play Well and Need Help
New Jersey Devils: The Devils fate could be decided in their next 6 games. They play the Islanders, Senators, and the Thrashers at home and away. If they can go 5-1 in those winnable games for this streaking club, they would be right in the middle for the final positions of the playoff race. The final 6 games are equally as important. They will be playing teams already in playoff spots or fighting to make the playoffs in the East. The one thing that shouldn't happen to this team is letting the pressure get to them. They are a veteran team that got off to a horrendous start and got their Head Coach fired. Currently they are 9 points away from 8th place Carolina with 2 games in hand. My percentage that they get into the playoffs: 15%.
Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers wouldn't even have a chance for the playoffs except for the play of Dustin Byfuglein this year. Acquired from Chicago, he has played the way he did in last year's playoffs. The offensive lines aren't as talented as others in the East. Byfuglein is in the 1st pairing of the Defensemen and is a converted forward. Basically, they are playing above their skill level. When Andrew Ladd is your leading scorer, you shouldn't be anywhere the playoffs. Their remaining schedule does not give them any favors. They have 11 games left against teams that would be in the playoffs right now. For them to qualify for the playoffs they need to turn around the cold streak that they are on and get White Hot immediately. Otherwise, they can kiss their chnaces at the playoffs goodbye. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 5%.
Teams That Will Go Down To The Final Week Of The Season To Decide If They Get Into The Playoffs
Toronto Maple Leafs. I will give Ron Wilson all the credit in the world for this one. The Maple Leafs in the playoff at the start of the season made me laugh. But yet, they are right in the middle of the scramble in the East. The thing that I think will cause the Leafs to ultimately fall short is a small 3-game road trip out to the West. The play the Wild, Avalanche, and Red Wings. I see a 1-2 record in those 3 games and I don't think that they can overcome that. They have picked up points in 9 of their last 10 games, but I don't see them continuing that pace through the end of the season. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 25%.
Buffalo Sabres. Ryan Miller is starting to look like the Miller of old. He has started the last 9 games and has given up 3 goals or less in each of those games. The schedule is filled with team fighting for the playoffs. The thing that has given them hope is their record against the Northeast. They are 12-6 in division and have 2 games in hand over Carolina. Look for the Sbares to squeak into the playoffs and cause some havoc. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 65%.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes are in 8th right now, but hanging on by a thread. They added leadership and physicality on the blueline at the trade deadline. It might help with the playoff push. They are 9th in Goals For, so there wasn't a big need there. I don't know if they did enough for the blueline. The schedule basically has a big game each and every time they play. I wish that I knew that the Hurricanes had explored a blockbuster trade for Rick Nash at the deadline. Rumor had it that the Blue Jackets were willing to explore such a thing. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 40%.
New York Rangers: This helter skelter team has looked good the past 2 games, while the past month hasn't been quite as bright. Marian Gaborik is back and figures to score during the home stretch. John Tortorella is trying to instill some discipline and defense into the team. The schedule isn't that difficult and they should make the playoffs unless they melt down like their coach has been known to do. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 55%.
Teams That Should Make It Into The Playoffs
Montreal Canadiens: Winners of 4 of their last 5. They are 9 points ahead of Buffalo, who is in 9th place. The Habs are looking forward to Tuesday's game against Boston to try and get closer to the Bruins and the Division lead. I don't think they will overtake Boston for the division, but shouldn't have too many problems staying in 5th or 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Carey Price has shown something this season that may help the Habs down the stretch. Playoff Qualification Percentage: 75%.
Teams That Will Make It Into The Playoffs
Tampa Bay Lightning